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  • Writer's pictureMarc Komori Stager

Those Mean Thoughts are NOT You

"I know about your lack of self-control and all the bad stuff you've done."

I bet this sounds familiar to many of us. Don't we all have mean thoughts about ourselves?

In this Pearls Before Swine cartoon, a stuffed pig in the image of sweet, innocent Pig, sits on a shelf. From its perch, this sendup of Elf on a Shelf says mean things to Pig about Pig himself. It tells Pig all of Pig's faults. And it is shrewd too; it has insider knowledge of what poor Pig has done. What it says cuts.

And who could argue with such penetrating insights? What could be truer than our own thoughts?

Where might such a Critic come from? Perhaps we have each brought into ourselves a version of something scary and powerful and hurtful. At first, this model of the powerful can help protect us. It gives some predictive ability. It shows where the hurt begins and safety ends.

But it can grow into a problem of its own. It yells at us like a drill sergeant under the guise of being helpful. Now we have two bullies, an inner and and outer meanie.

What to do?

This post started when a client shared the Pearls Before Swine cartoon with me. She penned in "The Critic" with an arrow pointing at the Self on a Shelf.

What could open up if you and I did something similar? What if we imagined the mean, critical inner thoughts as a stuffed animal sitting on a shelf? What if we labeled that stuffie as The Critic, or whatever name seems fitting to your version of a bully? What might be different if we kick these inner thoughts back outside of us where they started from, perhaps even where they belong?

This could give us some space, some elbow room, to move around in. With this space, maybe we can begin to ask some questions that we couldn't ask when we were one with the thoughts.

We could begin this by asking some questions that challenge The Critic.

We might ask:

  • Where does The Critic claim its power comes from?

  • Who died and made The Critic king?

  • Why does it get to know us better than we know ourselves?

  • How does it get to decide winners and losers?

  • What if we put it in a baby voice? A stuck-up voice? A know-it-all voice?

What might our lives be like if we put The Critic (and other bullies like it) back outside of ourselves?


Do some mean people try to have power over us by telling us we lack self-control and by reminding us of bad stuff we've done? To try to protect ourselves from such mean behavior, do we build a model to help us predict what meanness might come our way? Might that inner model take on a life of its own, outgrowing its ability to help?

If we can put the critical, mean thoughts outside of ourselves, we can gain some distance to evaluate whether The Critic has outgrown its usefulness. If it is no longer so helpful, we can move to decrease its power over us and reclaim our lives for ourselves.

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